How to Change Your Engine Oil & Filter in 13 Steps

In This Guide

Next to maintaining the coolant, the most important thing you can do to ensure the life of your car’s engine is changing motor oil. Engine oil lubricates internal components and removes dirt which is deposited in the oil filter. Over time, the filter becomes saturated and oil breaks down until it no longer protects your engine.

How often do you need to change your oil?

That depends on your vehicle and driving style. Older engines needed oil changes every 3,000 miles (4,800 km) or three months, but newer engines have intervals as long as 20,000 miles (32,000 km) and two years thanks to improved oils, filtration media and engine controls.

Check your owner’s manual to find the right time to change the engine oil in your car. If it mentions different intervals for standard and severe service, use the severe interval if you mostly drive in town in stop and go traffic and the standard interval if you drive mostly on the highway.

Fortunately this is one of the simplest maintenance tasks you can perform on your car. This step-by-step guide will show you everything you need to do to change your car’s oil.

Supplies You’ll Need

Before you get started, make sure you have all the necessary supplies and equipment on hand.

  • Motor oil: The owner’s manual will list the weight, service classification, and capacity for your engine. Information about the first two items can be found in the API “donut,” a round symbol on the back of the container.
  • Oil filter: Check the owner’s manual for the recommended type. Some newer engines require special high filtration filters to keep oil clean over long intervals.
  • Filter wrench: Oil filters are designed to be tightened by hand, but they can be hard to remove after having hot oil flow through them for thousands of miles. A filter wrench is designed to grip the outer can to get more leverage.
  • A drain plug gasket, if required for your engine.
  • A set of wrenches or a ratchet and sockets
  • A funnel
  • An oil pan or bucket: You’ll want to take the used oil to a place that recycles it, so you may want to go with an enclosed oil pan.
  • Rags and/or Newspapers
  • Ramps or a jack and jack stands
  • Wheel chocks
  • Safety glasses
  • Work gloves
  • Mechanic’s hand cleaner

Make sure you have a clean, level place to work, like a driveway or garage.

1) Run your engine.

Warm oil drains faster than cold oil, saving you time, but letting the engine come up to full operating temperature can make the oil hot enough to burn your skin. Let your car idle for a few minutes, or drive it around the block to get it to the right temperature.

2) Raise the car.

Driving the front wheels onto a pair of ramps is easiest, but you can also use a jack to lift the vehicle and then support it using jack stands. Never get underneath a vehicle supported only by a hydraulic jack: the valves could fail, dropping the car on you. Set the parking brake and put the chocks behind the rear wheels to keep the vehicle from moving.

3) Get the drain pan in place.

Open the hood and remove the oil fill cap from the top of the engine. This should be clearly marked with an oil can-shaped symbol. Opening it will let air in so oil can flow out freely.

Slide the pan underneath the drain plug to catch the oil. Keep in mind that it will come out at the angle the plug is pointed at, so it may land several inches behind the plug when it’s first removed. Surround the pan with newspaper and rags to catch any drips. Break the drain plug loose using a wrench or ratchet, turning the bolt counter-clockwise.
Not sure where the drain plug is? Check your owner’s manual.

4) Remove the drain plug.

Now that the drain plug is loose, it can be unscrewed by hand. While turning the bolt, push it against the oil pan to keep the oil inside. Once completely unthreaded, quickly move the bolt aside to let the oil out without getting it all over your hand.

5) Drain old oil.

Oil should pour out smoothly as air enters the top of the engine. You may need to move the drain pan to keep the oil flowing into it.

6) Replace oil plug.

Replace the old gasket with a new one if needed. Screw the bolt into the drain hole by hand, making sure it doesn’t crossthread. Once seated, use a wrench or ratchet to turn the bolt another 1/4 turn to ensure a tight seal.

7) Remove existing oil filter.

Be cautious: there will still be some hot oil left in the filter. Move the pan underneath the filter or filter housing. For enclosed filters, use the filter wrench to turn it counterclockwise. Once it’s loose, unscrew it the rest of the way by hand.

8) Lubricate the new filter and screw into place by hand.

The rubber seal on the filter needs a light coat of oil to prevent sticking and cracking. This seal is located around the filter’s opening.

To install the filter, screw it on by hand: using the filter wrench can overtighten the filter, squeezing the seal and causing it to leak.

9) Pour in new oil.

Place the funnel into the opening for the filler cap you removed earlier. Pour in the new oil, but don’t add the full amount at first as some of the old oil may not have drained out and you don’t want to overfill it.

10) Start the car and look for leaks.

Screw the fill cap back in place, start the car and let it run for a minute or two to let it circulate. Check the drain plug and filter for signs of leaks. Shut off the car before tightening either part. If everything is leak free, slide the drain pan out from underneath the car, lower the car off of the ramps or jack stands, shut off the car and let it sit for a couple minutes.

11) Check the oil level.

Remove the dipstick and wipe it off. Slide it back in, and take it out again. The oil should come up to the “Full” mark on the end of the dipstick. If it doesn’t, add more oil.

12) Dispose of old oil and filter properly.

If you used an open drain pan, pour the used oil into the empty oil bottles or a milk jug. Place the filter in a plastic bag. Most parts stores and quick lubes will take oil and filters for recycling.

13) Record the date and mileage.

Write down the date and your car’s mileage so you’ll know when you need to service it again.

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